Tribes are often thought of as primordial social forms displaced by the state and by civilization. And yet tribes continue to appear and act in practical affairs. What is the current status of tribes, how and why do they mobilize, and why do tribes continue to exist and operate?
Tribes are often thought of as primordial social forms displaced by the state and by civilization. Except by some "postcolonial" anthropologists who do not grant "tribe" an authentic indigenous existence, dismissing it as an invention of reactionary and racist anthropologists and colonialists. And yet we are repeatedly surprised by the appearance and agency in practical affairs of these allegedly imaginary entities. The Pashtun tribes side with the Taliban against the Western forces, or resist the Taliban; assert their independence in the tribal regions, and attack the Pakistani Government. The tribes of al-Anbar Province of Iraq were active participants with al-Qaeda in the anti-Western insurgency, but later switched to ally with the Americans against al-Qaeda. The Bedouin tribes of Cyrenaica, Libya, who fought two wars with the Italians, and who continued to be local political players during the Gadhafi regime, led the rebellion against Gadhafi, and are now likely to contest power in the new Libya. The Yarahmadzai tribe of Iranian Baluchistan that I lived with and studied would be more than surprised to hear that no such entity actually existed, or was invented by me, or by colonialists (none of whom ever managed to arrive in the region). This panel presents an opportunity for researchers from various regions to explore the current status of tribes, to consider the ways and extent to which they mobilize, and for what purposes, and to theorize why tribes continue to exist and operate in the contemporary world.